May I take your order? One degree coming up

The commodification of education

How many of you heard from a young age that if you want to get a good job, you have to obtain some sort of post-secondary education?

I know I did, from a variety of sources. Whether it be university, college or another form of higher education, most of us have been bred to think that to be successful in life we require more than a high school diploma.

In all likelihood, the people that told us this were trying to do us a favour. It is true that most careers require some form of additional training beyond high school.

But was training ever the purpose of a university? Were universities designed to transform us into perfect lawyers or accountants or social workers?

With the decade-long tuition freeze here in Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba have been forced to increase enrollments to stay afloat since they couldn’t raise the price we pay at the door. Naturally then, universities started targeting people who might not have planned originally to go to universities in their advertising campaigns. Just think of U of W’s “You of W” marketing scheme. U of M follows a similar pattern with their “Be More at U of M” posters.

With universities wanting to make a profit, academia has become less exclusive, which most agree is a good thing. But increasingly, universities are also marketed as being tailored to each individual student. This is not what universities are designed to do.

Universities are not supposed to be individualized; they are supposed to be institutions of knowledge. They are not job training programs or trade schools, both of which are better geared for actual job training.

The goal of a university, or at least what used to be its goal, is to expand the knowledge of the students enrolled in them. This means that students were there to learn for learning’s sake, not to become educated solely for the purpose of achieving a high-paying job in the end.

Today, a very different role for universities has emerged, one that relegates a university education to a commodity that is bought with the expectation that economic gains will be awaiting the student / buyer in the end.

In a lot of ways, it is difficult to place fault upon any one factor that has brought this mindset about. That students have unreasonable or misguided expectations about the likelihood of making a sizeable salary just because they hold a university degree is obvious. Yet, since this is more or less what many of them have been taught since they were able to entertain the idea of university seems a causal factor.

The capitalist society we live in also holds blame, as it has indoctrinated many with the idea that receiving a particular service simply requires the proper exchange process. Namely, if one can provide the necessary sum of money, such as tuition fees, one should expect that their service delivery will be met. As such, it can be extrapolated that that this is how university works as well.

However, this should not be the case. Universities are supposed to be places where one learns as much as possible and uses that knowledge in future pursuits. University should not be a grooming program for a particular career. If that’s what university has become, then lets call a spade a spade and say we attend a trade school. I know I intended to enroll at a university. Did you?

Melanie Murchison isn’t half as disgruntled as she may appear.

Published in Volume 64, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 21, 2010)

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